Age: 51 to 60
Number of Cruises: 6 to 10
Cruise Line: Holland America
Sailing Date: June 2000
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
We recently returned from a Western Caribbean cruise on HAL’s new ship the
Zaandam and are happy to report that the Zaandam is a fine ship.
Our group included my wife, Rita, our 10-year-old son, Adam, and yours truly. My wife and I have previously sailed with various lines including Celebrity, Disney, NCL, Cunard, K-D German Rhine Line, Chandris, and the old Matson. Our son is also something of a cruise veteran having sailed on the Disney Magic and Celebrity’s Mercury. I learn a good deal by reading other reviews but understand that individual tastes and experiences can vary greatly, and the same will be true here. Don’t take any of this as gospel and grab a salt shaker.
I doubt if the Zaandam will win any awards for aesthetics, but it is a pleasant thing to observe. It looks like a cruise ship, not a spaceship or a floating amusement park. I found it well designed and an easy ship in which to find one’s way, although we always depended on Adam to negotiate our path through the ship. He quickly memorized the ship’s map and delighted in explaining the way to lost adults. Although the ship holds 1400 passengers, I don’t ever recall having to stand in line for more than a few minutes or having the feeling of being herded from point to point. It is, of course, new, but it is also very well maintained and spotless. The carefully polished wood brings back images from the proud history of the Holland America Line as do the prints of the famous steamships of the past. I enjoyed finding a print of the old Statendam that my Dad had worked on the 30’s as part of a dance band. The new Zaandam will help to eliminate HAL’s image as a floating retirement home. There was a wide range of ages on board from the very young to the very old, and Rita, who must have been a cruise director in a previous life, enjoyed meeting people from all walks of life and all age groups. Cheers to Captain Jack van Coevorden, Hotel Manager Nick Burger, Chief Housekeeper Masdari and the entire crew and staff for having such a tightly run ship.
Embarkation and disembarkation were smooth and efficient, qualities that HAL is known for, and we were impressed with the trouble free operation. We boarded the ship at Port Everglades and followed the wise advice of past passengers who said to come early to the port. We arrived around 12:00 PM, and in about an hour we were on the ship and enjoying lunch on the Lido Deck. One word of advice: if you want to stock up on cokes or beer to take on board, do so before you get to the pier. However, HAL seems completely unconcerned with what you carry on board in terms of beverages, so just place whatever liquid refreshments you enjoy in a carry-on or beach bag before you arrive at the pier. There is a duty-free shop at the pier where you can purchase hard liquor for shipboard consumption. Cheers to HAL for being consumer friendly in this regard.
We were escorted to the Verandah Deck and to our cabin that was humorously labeled a "mini-suite," but it was fine for the three of us. We had two twin beds that could be squeezed together for a double and a sofa that converted into a comfortable bed for our son. Fortunately, the sofa was long enough so that the bed could be made parallel with the wall without pulling out the bed into the middle of the sitting room and eating up valuable space (as in the Mercury). Aside from the sofa, the sitting room contained a desk-vanity with good drawer space, a TV with VCR, and a mini-bar, all of which worked. In addition, we had a nice balcony that had plenty of room for the three of us. The bathroom was of ample size and well designed. The shower-tub combination gave plenty of standing room for even a big guy like me, and my wife could enjoy soaking in the tub (though not at the same time). All of our clothes fit nicely in the closets or drawers, and we were able to stow the suitcases out of the way. Our steward, Suripto, kept the cabin nice and tidy and provided excellent service. The cabin was pleasantly quiet, and we rarely heard a peep from our neighbors except when we were out on the balcony. I never noticed a problem with ship vibration. Occasionally the ship would rock a little, but if you don’t want movement why get on a ship?
Two decks above us was the Lido Deck, and no doubt all passengers spent a good deal of time here as the buffet is located here as well as two swimming pools. We always enjoyed breakfast and lunch at the buffet instead of the formal dining room as the Lido was always quicker and more relaxed. Cafeterias tend to look the same everywhere, but this buffet was superior to every other ship’s buffet we’ve sampled. Our son could always be found at the grill that offered a good variety of hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, and tacos. The Lido was also available for evening meals as an alternative restaurant, but we never tried that. Nor did we try the "Marco Polo," the ship’s alternative restaurant. The standard advice is to reserve a time early as they quickly fill.
We ate all our evening meals in the main dining room, the two level "Rotterdam, and on formal nights the candles and extra linen made it look very nice indeed. On those formal nights the gentlemen were equally divided between tuxes and suits, so take your pick. I packed a conservative dark suit which always seems to be appropriate. A gentleman in the table next to ours had a rather worn tweed sports coat, and the waiter proceeded to spill soup on the coat, by accident I assume. Perhaps the waiter was an undercover operator for the fashion police. While the surroundings were elegant, I wouldn’t call the meals "gourmet" by any means. However, I don’t think it’s possible to provide true gourmet meals for 1400 souls, and I think it’s a mistake to expect too much from any ship’s cuisine. We were, however, in general pleased with the variety of meals and the service provided. Rita especially enjoyed the Broiled New York Sirloin Steak "Sauce Diane" with oven roasted red potatoes with rosemary, and I was fond of the Prime Rib of Beef Au Jus "herb wrapped and slow roasted with horseradish and double baked potato." I usually skip deserts, but Rita told me the deserts were excellent especially the cheesecake. She and I agree, however, that Celebrity has the edge in terms of dining. Those with children will be glad to learn that a child’s menu can easily be provided for more finicky eaters, and Adam could also find a grilled cheese to suit him. We enjoyed talking with our table companions and were glad to see that we had been joined by a family with a child our son’s age. Service was good and seemed to improve as the cruise progressed as the assorted wait staff quickly learned our preferences. Cheers to Executive Chef Franz Schaunig and Maitre d’Hotel Tri Wiyono and the entire dining room staff.
I can’t say much about the children’s programs as our son turned up his nose at most of the announced activities, and perhaps they do need to try more innovative activities for his age group. The counselors we met seemed very nice, but they also seemed understaffed. Perhaps they just weren’t prepared for the number of children on board. I know that one counselor failed to make the ship so that left them short-handed. More facilities especially designed for children would help. The tiny video arcade, for example, was much too small. A special room with a bank of computers for children would also help, especially for those days at sea. Adam and I did spend time on the sports deck and played shuffleboard, but we could never find an open court for basketball. Perhaps it was just as well, as we met one man my age who twisted his ankle on the basketball court and could hardly move most of the week. His wife was not amused and kept telling him (in that cutting voice that only long married wives can use) to "remember your age."
Entertainment was about what you would expect, which is to say not much. I’ve learned to avoid ship’s entertainment whenever possible as it brings back painful memories of amateur night at camp. We did see some acts, however, and our son really enjoyed the comic juggler and the ventriloquist. Of the "Las Vegas" type big production number entitled "Dancing Fool," I will only say that it was aptly named. HAL is obviously trying to change its image to attract a younger audience (why else have guitars on display signed by the Rolling Stones?), but I wondered why the variety shows would feature numbers leftover from the Lawrence Welk show. To attract a younger crowd, I think HAL needs a greater variety of music. I say that as a 50+ baby boomer who can’t stand most of what he hears on the radio. A ship with a music theme, however, should provide music for all ages. More to my liking were the small combos in the lounges that could provide a mixture of jazz and contemporary music. Our favorite lounge was the "Crow’s Nest" set high atop the sports deck that provides sweeping vistas through its forward facing panoramic windows. In the daytime it’s a great place to stare out to sea and read a book, and at night it’s a great spot to have a drink and listen to music. The waiters learned our names and our drink preferences quickly. Our son enjoyed being addressed as "Master Adam," and I enjoyed being called "Mister Charles" (my first not last name) as it recalled the old "Thin Man" series. I did miss not having a special room for cigar smokers as on the Celebrity, especially as we were within puffing distance of Havana.
HAL’s nonsensical "tipping not required" policy confuses many, so let me just reiterate the old advice to tip on HAL as you would on other cruise ships. We were dismayed to find out some passengers thought that "tipping not required" meant that there was "no tipping" while others would use the policy as an excuse to stiff the staff. Cruise Director Susan Wood told the audience gathered for the disembarkation talk that she had been besieged with questions regarding tips, but she and all HAL employees were not allowed to suggest dollar amounts. I think HAL could clear up a good deal of confusion on this issue. The hard working staff provided excellent service, and they depend on tips for their livelihood; to stiff them is unconscionable.
The Western Caribbean itinerary was hardly innovative as it crossed some pretty well worn ports: Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and HAL’s private island. As many reviewers have noted, it’s pretty easy to skip the ship’s tours and book just about anything you want at the dock if you want to save a few dollars. I would only suggest not doing that in the afternoon to make sure you get back to the pier on time. Some tours seem to run on "Caribbean Time" which exists in a different (but more pleasant) world than our 9 to 5 universe. My son has just taken up snorkeling, so we did a good deal of underwater exploration at every stop. Chankanaab Park in Cozumel was our first stop, and we snorkeled there and saw an interesting variety of rainbow colored fish. The park also contains a botanical garden that is said to have over 300 species of tropical plants, though we didn’t take time to count. Getting there was very easy as taxis were readily available at the pier and at the park for the return trip. In Grand Cayman we took a small boat to "Stingray City" to snorkel with the stingrays and had a great time. We mostly avoided the crush of people and fish around the boat and instead snorkeled around the area watching the stingrays gracefully swim beneath us. We nosed around George Town and shopped in the area near the pier. Everyone seemed friendly, and it made us think of returning someday.
In Jamaica we took a ship’s tour that put us on a Catamaran to snorkel over a coral reef. The trip included a stop at the overhyped Dunn’s River Falls, and I would add my vote to those who suggest skipping it as it simply is not worth the hassle. We also did a little shopping in Ocho Rios at the Sony shopping center and the adjacent straw market which almost defines the term "tourist trap." I had been to Jamaica twelve years ago and remembered being constantly bombarded with offers to sell everything from marijuana to "a good time," so I was a little apprehensive about taking wife and son through the streets. However, things seem to have improved a little. No one was overly aggressive, and a polite "No thank you" was all that was needed to ward off hawkers. It was bizarre talking to Rastafarians about the Indiana Pacers. Our son had on a Pacer shirt, and we were heard many comments of "Go Pacers!" I thought the vendors were just trying to butter us up for a sell (which of course they were), but they also knew all the players on the team. This was during the NBA finals, and they followed the games closely. All prices are negotiable, of course, and, if you like to haggle over prices, you’ll have fun. Baskets made in Taiwan don’t interest me, but I thought I had scored a coup in complex negotiations over a 6 pack of Red-Stripe Beer only to find out when I returned home that the same beer was cheaper at my local liquor store.
The private island "Half Moon Cay" was everyone’s favorite. The crescent shaped beach is almost too good to be true with fine white sand and crystal clear water. Adam and I didn’t see much through the masks while snorkeling, but we had a very enjoyable day in the idyllic setting. Rita enjoyed floating on the mat, and we all found ourselves hugging the shade of the beach umbrella as the sun was intense. Take lots of sunscreen and reapply. A good barbecue lunch is provided on the island, and all the facilities were spotless. I think most passengers would be content to spend the entire week there. It was a great way to end a great cruise.
I would certainly sail on the Zaandam again.